This year winner of IK prize – an annual award that rewards the best ideas using innovative technology to increase the public experience of British art – was won by the trio of London artists Flying Objects.
They have created the Tate Sensorium, an immersive experience that allows visitors to experience art through the stimulation of senses. Flying Objects created an intimate and immersive experience by accompanying the visual dimension of four different paintings with sounds, smells, haptics and taste. This creates an intimate and immersive experience between visitor and the piece of art that improves their feelings, emotions and relationship.
To complement the experience a biometric sensor was given to each one of the participants, at the beginning of the experience. This biometric sensor, which resembles a wristband, reads the galvanic electrodermal activity of the skin, measuring the level of arousal and showing which painting created the strongest emotional reaction.
The experience begins inside a small dark room where just four visitors are guided step-by-step through the different paintings, one at a time. During the entire visit a sweet and charming female voice accompanies you, giving the guidelines for the sensory experience of each one of the paintings. Her tone of voice helps create a relaxed and comfortable mind set.
1964, Richard Hamilton
Interior II is the first painting that visitors get contact with. The artists incorporated smell and sound to create a more intimate relationship between a viewer and the painting, reaching an immersive experience where you actually feel as being transported into that room. Here are our experiences of it:
‘Here you are encouraged to smell a wooden-like scent and exposed to sounds of a women walking around the house. This painting wasn’t particularly entertaining to me. Although the results I have received at the end suggested I had a sudden peak of emotional reaction in the middle of the viewing.’
‘Smell of wood polish accompanied by the sound of doors and floor crackingmade me feel like I was actually entering into that space. You could also hear the television working at the same time that the girl in the painting is brought to life by the smell of vintage hair-spray.’
In The Hold
1913-1914, David Bomberg
To experience the second painting the sense of haptics was introduced to accompany the sense of smell and sound. Here you were instructed to touch two different objects, one geometrically abstract and another pyramidal. You could play with it and smell it at the same time that you were looking at the painting and digging deeper into it. The simple fact of touching the different forms represented on the painting created a totally different experience of it.
‘Here the artists played with geometric forms, balancing between abstract polygonal forms with sharp edges and pyramidal forms with round edges. When touching the abstract form the smell was stronger and almost unpleasant, I had a tendency to look for more abstract shapes on the painting and for dark colours. The abstract and irregular shapes with the pointy edges awakened in me negative associations and for this reason everything looked more negative for me when touching this object. On the other hand, touching the pyramidal object with the round edges, because the round and curvilinear lines feel safer for us, I had more positive connotations. The smell was sweeter and enjoyable for me. I could see on the painting lighter colours and more triangles which is the perfect form, resembling equilibrium and balance.’
‘This painting was accompanied by 2 triangle shaped and 2 geometrical shaped objects with various scents. Depending on which shape I held I could see different figures in the painting. Depending on which scent I smelled I focused on different colours in the painting.’
1961, John Latham
The third painting was very simple and enigmatic, brought by the vast contrast between white and black colours and their implicit association with opposite poles. To complement the dichotomy the artists incorporated sound and haptics sensations to amplify the sense of positive/negative feelings. This time the sound was listened through headphones which made it more lively and immersive. One of our hands where placed into a wooden structure where ultrasonic vibrations were felt and accompanied the strong and smooth sounds.
‘Here you are asked to put headphones and place your hand into a hard box. Various sounds of water, spraying, possibly cars and movement are combined with haptic sensations of dropping rain, roundness and wind.’
‘Attached to the dark colour were heavy and profound sounds that gave me the sense of weight and obscurity that was perfectly combined with strong vibrations felt on the hand. Contrasting were light sounds of drops falling into the water. Such relaxed sounds were felt by smooth vibrations on the hand and connected visually with the white and light colour on the painting. There was a profound contrast between evil and good’
Figure in a Landscape
1945, Francis Bacon
The painting of Francis Bacon – Figure in a Landscape – was selected by the artists as the last experience of the Tate Sensorium. Here they tried to create a fully immersive experience by incorporating all the 5 senses into the experience of the painting. We were instructed to eat a chocolate while listening to various sounds through headphones.
‘Here you were asked to put headphones and taste a chocolate. The experience was very intense with sensations of dirt, pollution, industrialism and separation from the nature coming to mind.
The chocolate had a power of various spices inside and was also placed on a bed of the powder of these spices. It not only looked but tasted dirty and industrial.
The experience of the painting was very intense and entirely negative and unpleasant; but that was a perfect sensory representation of the message of the painting’
‘This was for me the most multisensory experience from all the four. Here artists incorporated all the senses: sound, smell, taste, touch and vision.
At the start of the audio we were instructed to eat a chocolate resembling a charcoal. My connection with this painting was very strong and all because the artists coordinated all the senses very well.
Firstly, I felt a sweet flavour of chocolate in my mouth creating positive emotions that were suddenly replaced with feelings of dirtiness and disgust when reaching the chocolate’s filling. I started feeling cacao nibs that resembled dust and pollution, also very well combined with the background sound that resembled construction sounds like iron materials hitting and motor engines working. I felt like in the middle of an industrial place, all dirty, dusty and polluted. At the end, a salty flavour appeared and I immediately felt repulsion and my body struggling to deal with that. Immediately my vision was focused on the darker colours of the painting and I forgot the character in it. A feeling of aggression and negativity was very well represented by the coordination of all the sensory elements.
At the end my body was in need of water. I connected that with a necessity to clean the negative energies of the painting and purify myself.’
The experience was so unique and intense that even some hours later you still could feel the tastes created in your mouth and the strong emotions evoked.
At the end of the experience all the visitors were instructed to fill in a questionnaire and received a personalized reading of emotional reactions to each painting based on their galvanic skin response. A personalized map of Tate Britain was also given to each visitor pointing some works of art exhibited at the museum based on the senses that were most stimulated during the experience.
Together with us were two young girls that, like us, felt all the experience as being amazing, immersive and unforgettable. They pointed out how unique and memorable it was and how that helped them to feel the various art works in a very personal way. They immediately wanted to explore more of the sensory stimulation by following the personalised recommendations they received.
Recommendations for Retail & Hospitality Sectors
Flying Objects explored very well how senses can be used to improve visitors’ engagement with art. They not only made it more emotionally intense by creating a stronger connection between a painting and a person but also by creating a solid memory in visitors’ mind, that obviously place Tate Britain above other galleries.
This same principle can be applied to retail and hospitality industries. By creating emotional value and sensory enhancement of an experience, you can increase not only consumers’ involvement with the brand, reinforcing relationship and memory, but also influence some buying behaviours.
- If you want consumers to buy a specific product inside your store you should use congruent scents. Studies show that using scents that are congruent with the products being sold increase consumers visual fixation and the chances of buying it. Also using gender congruent scents can increase the sales by 139%;
- The same happens in restaurants. If you want to sell a particular dish just spray or incorporate in the menu the scent of its main ingredient. A study shows that using fruity smells in a restaurant increased consumers’ orders of fruity desserts;
- Some scents are capable of changing behaviours: some studies show that citric scent can influence our cleaning behaviour. Next time you want your consumers to maintain the order in the store during busy hours just spray some citric scent in the air;
- Sound is a powerful tool for influencing consumers’ perception of time. If you work in hospitality or retail, you may want to control consumers’ perception of time so they don’t get irritated while waiting in a queues and decide to leave;
- As a retailer you can use certain types of music to increase the sales of specific products. Studies show that the use of classical music can increase purchases of expensive items;
- Increase the value of your product by exploring haptic and body sensation. For example, if you are trying to sell expensive items or expensive dishes it is important to select the right materials for the packaging or menu. They should be made of quality and heavy products. Subconsciously, consumers will position your products in an upper-market price range and increasing the likelihood of purchase;
- Upper-market retail brands know that including an element of taste is important to show the brand’s quality. Food and drink products can be tailored to your brand personality and to the experience that you want your consumers’ to have inside your store.
Main picture source: Tate